The candy queens of Lesotho

The candy queens of Lesotho

MASERU – ONE dreamt of becoming a mining engineer. Another wanted to be a doctor. Both girls ended up being candy queens. And they love it.
Growing up in Mohale’s Hoek, Alina Ralintši saw herself as a mining engineer one day. In Maseru, a young Limakatso Nthethe thought the doctors’ rooms were her call.

Those dreams did not come true. But providing a sweet tooth to Basotho’s young and old is turning into a more fulfilling adventure.
Despite their divergent aspirations, both girls ended in the same class studying for a BSc Chemical Technology degree at the National University of Lesotho (NUL). And then, out of passion and necessity, they became candy girls, a passion that turned into a livelihood.
“We were also surprised,” Nthethe told thepost.

She was referring to how they found a destiny in a vocation far removed from their earlier dreams.
It started with a college expo. Just for the kicks, the duo decided to make candy for the exhibition. Although people at the expo liked the candy, the girls didn’t think much of it so they stopped making them.
“We had a lot of school work but everyone started asking about the candies,” recalled Nthethe, adding: “Little did we know that the expo was the beginning of a business journey.”

Schoolmates started pestering them to make some more.
With M50 contribution each and a couple of borrowed ice trays, McAli Candy was born.
“We were producing jelly sweets using four ice trays and selling them for one Loti. By the end of 2018 four ice trays had turned into 15 trays,” said Nthethe.

They invested the money into more ingredients while borrowing ice trays from friends.
By June 2019, McAli candy had become a campus hit. People off campus were also beginning to place orders.

After graduating at the end of 2019, the girls continued with their venture.
The Covid-19 pandemic hit and, like much of global commerce, business slowed, while import of inputs became more expensive.
“We persevered,” said Nthethe.

In February this year as Covid-19 restrictions eased, Ralintši and Nthethe rented a place to work from in Ha-Matala.
“We also hired two more people,” said Nthethe.
Today many supermarkets in Maseru sell their candy.

“We have added marshmallows to our candy variety. We are no longer producing just sweet and sour jelly sweets,” Nthethe said.
“The quality of our products, especially the marshmallows, has improved significantly. Practice makes perfect,” chipped in Ralintshi.
Much of the improvement has been the result of customer feedback, chipped in Ralintshi.

“The ultimate goal is to build a local candy wonderland that can be enjoyed in all of Africa,” Ralintshi said.
According to the duo, starting a business is not easy but it is the journey that they would not trade for anything.
“We have learned the hard way and we continue to learn every day. It is the experience that makes the journey worth it,” she said.

One of the biggest mistakes early in business, said Ralintshi, was to accept an investor who didn’t have “quite our passion”.
“We were eager to improve our quality and quantity and in the end it backfired. We learned from it. It helped us appreciate our journey even more,” she said.

Access to official markets has been another major challenge.
“Local supermarkets are still resistant. The fact that we are young works against us,” she said.
“Some people don’t take us seriously, some try to intimidate us, some doors are shut in our faces simply because we are considered too young to own the business,” lamented Ralintshi.
“Many people don’t appreciate humble beginnings. It is not a nice place to be in but the experience is worth it,” said Ralintshi.

While acknowledging the tough road ahead, the duo is determined to see the new dream of becoming Africa’s candy queens come through.
“I am very proud of where we are today, taking into consideration what we have been through and where we started,” noted Nthethe.

Both girls chuckled at the turnaround in dreams from mining engineering and medicine into becoming the country’s candy girls.
“I would have laughed if at some point someone had told me that my dream of becoming a mining engineer was going to take a backseat, that sweets would be my life,” blurted Ralintshi.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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